A Worthy Booker Prize Winner


I have just finished reading The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, an Australian author.  He is without doubt a worthy winner of the prestigious Booker Prize.  This is a tremendous book, powerful and moving.  It is the story of Dorrigo Evans, a foremost Australian surgeon, war-hero and philanderer.  The novel flits from the present to various events in his past and back again but rather than being disconcerting, it flows beautifully and we grow to understand this complex man who was a POW in one of the most notorious  camps in Thailand.  As a doctor and an officer, he tended the men who slaved on the construction of the Burma railway line.  His desperate life, trying to save his men from death, with no medical supplies, no food, no clothing, earned him the knick-name of The Big Fellah.  Although it is a harrowing story it is told with honesty and compassion and Flanagan attempts to show how the Japanese mindset meant that many Japanese soldiers also had to suffer terrible deprivations so that the Emperor’s commands would be fulfilled. As in so many other situations, it was the poor and powerless who were made to suffer, whether POWs or Japanese soldiers; the real perpetrators were too powerful, even after the war was over, to be punished.
I was hesitant about reading this book at first, thinking it would be too brutal a story for me but the brilliance of Flanagan’s writing means that nothing is sensationalised; the most horrific things are mentioned as part of a complex tapestry of events and emotions.  Nevertheless I did feel emotionally drained when I finished it.  I will look for more of this author’s books.


Joan Fallon is a writer and novelist living in Spain.